“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
I get asked a lot about how I got into the habit of reading. When did I start? Which books got me hooked?
I don’t really have a definite time or book title. All I know is that I found myself in an environment of books at a very young age and have always loved them. I grew up in a house of readers. Books had always been there and it was just a normal thing to grab a book and read. I can’t even remember if I was read to as a child but I do remember grabbing random titles off the shelf and spending hours glued to the pages.
I’d say out of everyone at home, my aunt was my biggest bookfluence. She was always reading and she was the one who collected and filled up our shelves. She worked in libraries a lot, in work that involved information and today she still refuses to retire from her library specialist job.
Although I used to read whatever I wanted without any strict rules, she would always bring almost age appropriate books. I say ‘almost’ because the books were for young readers but they were usually a few years ahead of me but not adult reading. For example, I read Sweet Valley High when I was around eight or nine.
I remember how in primary school I’d spend a lot of days during lunch and afterschool at the library. I still remember how insanely obsessed I was with the series AlphaPets. I have a feeling if I saw them on a shelf today I would definitely buy the complete set. Yes, that obsessed.
Even though there weren’t strict rules on what I could and couldn’t read, there were definitely books I knew I’d get into trouble for reading. I used to hide a copy of Mills & Boon and climb up a tree for privacy or sit in the outside toilet pretending to have a long constipated visit.
We also had a collection of the incredible Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. I managed to salvage a few of them. Yay! They were such easy and convenient reads – a collection of abridged best-selling novels. Yes, please.
My Papa was also a great bookfluence in my life. I used to read his collection of books which were mostly on things he was into, such as meditation, personal development, spiritual wellbeing, and martial arts. In my teenage years, he used to buy me a lot of self-help books which I dreaded reading because I didn’t really understand much of them. He bought me a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking when I was in my early teenage years.
I also grew up watching my grandparents have their early morning cup of tea reading something. My grandma would read the paper from start to finish, every single article. My grandpa would also do a thorough read of the daily paper but he also had his own favourite genre. If he wasn’t busy working I’d find him with either a biography or a book on politics. Although his choice never interested me, it was the action of reading that I watched from a young age that contributed to my love of reading.
On the days that I’d visit my mom, I’d “borrow” some of her books. It was at her house where I met Jackie Collins and Danielle Steele. I’d read a bit of Steele and some I wouldn’t enjoy so much but Collins, man! I think my first of her books was The World is Full of Divorced Women but my absolute favourites were from the Santangelo series. I also remember how for the thrill of mischief I stole my mom’s husband’s copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and ended up falling in love with it. I did return it. I’m a reader, not an animal.
Then my favourites – comic books. For as long as I can remember, we always had a lot of those at home. I did enjoy Marvel and DC but I was addicted to Richie Rich, Asterix & Obelix, Archie, Scooby-Doo and many others. I was too young to even have any awareness of some of these comic books’ blatant racist shit. And do you remember MAD the humour magazine? I absolutely loved it. I didn’t even get most of the content but it made me laugh.
I don’t remember which particular book from my early reading got me hooked to reading and birthed my deep love for writing but I know the top ones – Marabi Dance by Modikwe Dikobe (I desperately want a copy), Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane and Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.
Coming from an area where most households placed emphasis on reading as a classroom activity (a reading culture doesn’t always fare well in poor areas) and leisure books being so removed from their worlds, I am super grateful to have been brought up surrounded by books and people who were my reading models. They widened my view of the world and helped me become the person I am.
As it was done for me, I do the same for my children.